My don't sleep through free breakfast alarm went off at 8am. So tired from my 32 or so hour day before I had no idea what the noise was, but I did remember I was in Iceland. I also remembered that I planned an entire ambitious schedule of of museums for us to explore from east to west Reykjavik starting at 10am – the only wrench of course being my co-traveler was still completely asleep and barely moving to meet the breakfast cut-off.
We made it to breakfast and found a quite pleasing array of vegetables, pickles, rye bread, boiled eggs, american breakfast items and properly brewed coffee as the Reykjavik morning pelted rain upon the windows of Hotel Arnarhvoll and the harbor waves white capped.
By the time we got it together to leave the hotel it was time to get in line to attempt to pick up John Grant tickets for the Iceland Airwaves music festival. Prior to seeing John I had no idea who he was other than the short write-up I skimmed off the internet to determine if it was worth waiting in line to get tickets for. The primary draw for me, however, was that he was to perform with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. We walked up to the Harpa just in time to get a spot in line indoors, which according to the veterans, was a sure sign that we would get a ticket for the concert.
If not for this insight it was looking pretty bleak. But we stood it out like champs and got our tickets after only 60 minutes of line time investment. As we were waiting in line we watched the wind blow the rain sideways over the harbor. We started our museum tour at 1pm (three hours late) in unideal walking conditions.
Afer being pushed down the street by blustering wind we made it to the Reykjavik Maritime Museum, currently featuring an exhibit on the women of Icelandic fishing and maritime history.
The exhibit on the maritime women of Iceland was both inspiring and informative, and so were the other standard installations. To be be honest when I walked into this museum I was not expecting such an objective view of history.
I expected pro-overfishing propoganda including strong rationalization as to why all of the wrongs of the fishing industry today are right. What I got instead was an artful rendering of objective evidence covering a history of a people who have depended on fishing as their primary agriculture since the 800's. Nothing was romanticized, nor did it appear to me to be making a political statement, it just was what it was.
We did the obligatory survey of the gift shop after completing the museum tour then ventured out into the Reykjavik November afternoon. We were hungry so we went to the most nearby seafood establishment with good reviews – walked in, smelled something really horrid, turned around and left. No reason to sit and smell bad seafood when you are in a town that specializes in the best seafood experience of your life, hands down. We braved the eastbound wind slapping drizzle in our faces to get to the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant.
I ordered the fish and chips and Jessica got the fish soup. Above the silverware played a video of fish enjoying their lives underwater before we interrupted them.
The food Reykjavik Fish Company produced was no less than amazing. The most flakey and tasty battered cod with the lightest cleanest oiled chips I've eaten in my recent memory – both just tiptoed on the tongue without the depressing after taste of overused vegetable oil. Jessica's soup was a lightly cayenned, fenneled, tomatoed delectableness with tiny pillows of salmon.
Full and satisfied we ventured back out into the wind and the rain in search of the office of tourism and the city museum to find maps for road touring Iceland, and to see an archeaological exhibit about the first settlement of Iceland. We never found the city museum and I was very disappointed, but we did find the tourist help office and a car driving road map of Iceland to guide us to the Geysir and other natural wonders in future days.
What we did find were birds – geese and ducks and swans and more all gathered outside Reykjavik City Hall, staring at us with a look of discontent for reasons unknown.
We also found the music festival Wall Poetry, but did not listen to the music on Spotify that accompanied it.
We also found this art piece which we assume was called block head. Then we marched in the solid drizzle for about a mile to the Icelandic Phallogical Museum to be entirely grossed out by hundreds of animal penises in jars.
This artistic rendering (for your benefit) is a sperm whale penis.
And this is gerbil penis. So we have covered the size spectrum. What was the most unfortunate part about this visit, other than the disgusting phalluses in jars everywhere you looked was the other tourists in the gift shop uncomfortably laughing and fiddling with a monkey toy that kept warbaling the most annoying "whakakaka!!! whakakaka!!! whakakaka!!!" noise. It was not a settling soundtrack. Jessica was visibly upset by the whole affair and the only comedic relief I found was when I walked into the penis library I found this guy flashing me.
The only thing possible to bring me out of this funk was The Dude.
So we went to the Big Lebowski Bar and I ordered a Caucasian, otherwise known as a White Russian and basked in the Americana kitch all around us.
I could have had at least four to wipe the memory of fermeldahyde drowned whale penises from my brain but instead we let the rain help with that as we walked back to the hotel to study our maps of Iceland and primp ourselves for the John Grant concert.
We got nothing less than nosebleed seats at the concert. It did however have a great view of the orchestra if I leaned heavily to the left.
John Grant came on and crooned away as I used the zoom feature on my camera to get a good look.
The music was good, but eventually I got hungry and Jessica texted me that she had exited the auditorium. It was time to beat the exit crowd and go to dinner before the restaurants closed.
We were lucky and able to get a final seating at Laekjarbrekka and I ordered the Icelandic Feast because it had every single thing I wanted to taste or eat in Iceland on it – including fermented shark. As a bonus it had a wine pairing.
Which started with Icelandic Aquavit. The waitress said, "please save this, and use it to cleanse your palate after the shark." I listened.
Here is my plate of traditional Icelandic "treats" including: gravlox, wind dried fish, smoked lamb and of course, fermented shark. I went in order of interest cross referenced with what I thought might be appealing. So smoked lamb, followed by gravlox, followed by wind dried fish, followed by fermented shark. The wind dried fish was like eating birch tree bark and jerky with a slight fish flavor. Nutritious but completely devoid of any form of enjoyment, unless you like chewing on rope.
The fermented shark was all cat pee all the time unless you held your breath, then it was a curious texture with a protruding smell of ammonia reaching up to your olefactory sensors to remind you that in fact what you are eating is putrid and not quite ok. The difference between the first bite and the last was quite amazing because the ammonia, despite the holding of the breath, could somehow reach up and through the tongue to alert the nose that it was in fact present and would not be ignored. Thank god for the aquavit sitting in front of me, the quiet soldier ready to wipe away all signs of struggle from my tongue and create a blank slate for the actually glorious modern Icelandic food to come.
Langoustine soup, another soup on my list of best seafood soups I've ever eaten.
Lamb and langoustine main course – oh so juicy, oh so tasty, the memory of the shark washed away. Except for the photos posted on Facebook by Jessica.